Jane Alison, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-374-19941-8

Lovers part, strangers meet and fall in love, ambitions turn to desperation, hopes are betrayed, promises sundered and—in two cities slowly sinking into the sea—new beginnings blossom. The fulcrum of this novel is Oswaldo, a frail, elderly, and very rich Venetian. He funds a foundation that gives grants to artists. One recipient, Anton, a struggling architect nearing 40, reluctantly leaves his wife in New Orleans and goes to Venice on a grant to teach architecture. In Manhattan, artist Lach abandons his lover, Vera, and flees to Venice for a romantic rendezvous. But Vera has won a prize from Oswaldo's foundation, so she also embarks for Italy. Meanwhile, Max quits London for New Orleans, ostensibly to accept a chair in the History of Food, but primarily to woo Lucinde, an events planner. As soon as Max arrives, however, Lucinde flies to Venice to stay with Oswaldo, an old mentor of hers. Alison (The Love Artist) interweaves their stories in quick segues, each vignette succeeding the other like mounting waves in "the heedless sea." The narrative is suffused with sensuous references to art, architecture, food and the atmosphere—damp, moldy, mildewy—of both cities. Each of the characters is emotionally unmoored as well as physically in transit. The reader learns about each of them incrementally from the observations of the other characters; Shakespearean misunderstandings occur and suspense gathers. Alison's poetic sensibility reveals itself in lyrical, intense prose and surprising juxtapositions. Each character's feverish thoughts rise to a crescendo of emotional turmoil and release, and in the process, carry the reader on a sinuous journey of discovery. (Apr.)